If you’ve lived in Asia, you understand the synergy between local populations and the motorbike or scooter/moped. They are a cheap and convenient method of transportation in countries where most of the population cannot afford a car or truck.
Many, in fact, cannot even afford a motorbike, relegated to travel by bus and train.
I hate the things, but they are a necessary evil. Every time I get on the back of one (I don’t drive them myself due to lack of experience and costs.), I’m sure my life is about to end. Or perhaps worse, I’m mangled in an accident, ending my global travels in favor of savings-consuming medical care.
In Thailand, they are the chief mode of transportation, often seen with 3-5 people on board. You often see them used for hauling goods, even refrigerators.
They are also the chief cause of traffic fatalities and injuries, by far.
So, when I’m the back of a bike, I’m in constant concern: about falling off with the next bump, about another biker in front suddenly stopping or swerving, about a chicken crossing the road, about a crack in the pavement, about a flat tire sending us barreling over the pavement and possibly into an approaching vehicle.
The danger doesn’t seem to bother the Thais (or other Asians from what I can tell). They’re been riding these vehicles since they were 8-10 years old. Weaving in and out of heavy traffic, riding too close to others, speeding – all seem to have little in worry for the Thais.
So, in a roundabout way, I’ve come to a situation I find both interesting and fraught with danger – the multi-street railway crossings of Hua Hin.
Hua Hin has a well-known train station, often photographed and tour-oriented. Tourists are constantly taking selfies in front of it. It’s image is used in tourism marketing. And, it’s heavily used for train travel from Bangkok and places north and east all the way to the southern provinces (think Phuket). The train tracks (soon to be upgraded from two to four for new services) basically split the “beach side” of Hua Hin from the more easterly residential areas. As a result, there is a lot of traffic crossing the tracks every day.
One such crossing is at Soi 88, where 6 road lanes merge to cross the tracks. The lanes are managed by a roundabout on the eastern side. When traffic is heavy and a train comes through, motorcycles, cars, buses and trucks will converge on either side, as you would expect.
Unlike in Western countries, however, they don’t converge in line. Instead, they crowd together as far forward in the queue as possible. Motorcyclists, in particular, will squirm their way through narrow openings just to gain a few feet, ready for the surge forward when the railway crossing bar goes up. Around a back bumper of an SUV, angled past another biker who left a crack open.
You can literally touch the people on the bikes all around you, as you wait to see how this jigsaw dance to pan out. Young mothers carrying 2 or 3 children. Old women with bags of groceries clinging to their bikes. Young students or other teens. Hot shots with their souped up pretend motorcycles.
All waiting to take off as soon as the gate is raised, sitting there barely inches from one another, often with wheels pointing in conflicting directions. Like I said, interesting.
As yet, I have not witnessed any accidents in this scenario, but judging from what I’ve seen, there must be plenty.
I should add that the same non-queuing mentality also exists at some Asian airports, ferry terminals and train stations – everybody jostles for advantage in a large group – no lines. I saw that habit changed at the Singapore ferry terminal to Indonesia, where lines replaced the mobs. No one seemed to mind.
I doubt the motorcyclists will change their ways, however.